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Job interview tips: Weakness/strengths

Don't you just hate that moment in a job interview when you're asked to reveal your strengths and weaknesses?

As if you are going to answer truthfully. "My strengths include being a really good party host and my weaknesses include the fact that my mind often wanders to thoughts about my next party when I am supposed to be adding up figures." Yeah right.

I know a sales consultant who told her interviewer point blank: "You don't really expect me to tell you my weaknesses?" She got the job. However, when interviewing with experts such as a recruitment consultant or a human resources professional using humour or candour is a risk so proceed with caution. What might prove a great answer for a candidate for a sales job might prove a wrong move for someone else.

I saw a really good answer to the weakness question in the DVD Winning the career you deserve produced by Bill Lang International. The DVD has eight segments but in the one on interviews an actor fields the question by saying: "I don't have a weakness that would affect my ability to do this role successfully."

Graham Smith of Heritage Recruitment said asking a candidate about their strengths and weaknesses was an important way to test his or her suitability for a particular role.
"You are trying to see if the person has a sense of his or her own limitations," he said. "You also want to know what the person is good at and how that might fit into the role you are trying to fill."

"The interviewer wants to make sure the candidate has the right 'behaviours' and skills for the job. After the interview, the interviewer will then verify that the candidate has the skills they claim to."

"For example, is the person good at problem-solving? Will they work well in a team? Do they have an eye for detail and are they a self-starter?"

Both Mr Smith and Nicole Gorton, Australian branch manager of OfficeTeam, said it was very important to provide specific examples to demonstrate your "strengths".

Known as "behavioural interviewing", this is where the candidate is asked: "Tell me about a time when you..." So make sure you have specific examples to back up everything you rehearse for your interview.

A sales consultant who said a strength was the fact he or she was "driven by results" should follow with an example of a time when he or she achieved say 100 per cent of their monthly target in three weeks or consistently achieved more than 100 per cent of targets each month or quarter.

Someone in retail or hospitality could be "passionate about customer service" and recall a time of going out of their way to fulfil a customer or guest's request. Make sure your examples are truthful and can be verified by your referee.

Simon Tobin, a director of Michael Page Finance and Ms Gorton both said to relate "weaknesses" that were really strengths and not to use the word "weakness".

"Start the sentence with, 'my area for improvement is'," said Ms Gorton. Also, nominate a skill you don't actually need on the job like languages. Being able to say you are actively trying to change your weakness into a strength is also a good idea.
For example, "My area for improvement is public speaking and I have just enrolled in a toastmaster's course."

Mr Smith said: "I ask. 'Give me an example of a situation when you were not successful, what you did, and how you felt about it?"

"I want to know that someone can encounter a knock back and be robust enough to cope with it and get on with the job," he said.

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